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SXSW 2015 Tuesday: Canadian hardcore, Royal Thunder, and Sasheer Zamata has sex with 'Falcor'

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The primary narrative coming into this year’s South By Southwest Music Festival was that nobody was going to the South By Southwest Music Festival. This was an ironic statement of purpose repeated often all around the Internet (ironic because if nobody was actually going, why bother previewing it in the first place?).

But what everybody meant was this year’s SXSW lacked a clear walk-up narrative. In 2014, the primary story line running through the festival was whether or not the influx of corporate branding had finally pushed the event to its tipping point, forever drowning any promise of discovering new bands in a vat of Doritos dust and green vomit. This year, all the use of the adjective “problematic” seems to have worked in the purists’ favor: Though many big-business sponsors still remain (and in fact the biggest pre-SXSW story was the fact that McDonald’s had come under fire for not paying bands booked on its promotional bill), many—including the aforementioned Doritos, and more shockingly Apple, who is about to repackage Beats Music any day—have decided to stay home.

What’s left is a SXSW that is shaggier than it has been in years. Without a clear superstar dictating the narrative, the theme of this year’s festival seems to be embracing the way the thing used to operate: Wander around, have a beer or two, and discover new music. That was on full display on Tuesday, which SXSW has taken to calling “The Convergence” because it was the one day of the nearly-two week affair containing events in film, interactive, and music.

(The real story being told at this year’s SXSW Music is the fact that it’s the first year that the headlining events during the film portion of fest—including big blockbuster events surrounding Trainwreck, Spy, Furious 7 and Get Hard—have unequivocally eclipsed anything happening in music.)

That looser approach was on display on Tuesday, the low-key kickoff to the music portion of SXSW and the day I touched down in Austin. I had my first evening in the city meticulously planned out, opening up the festivities with a set from Canadian literate hardcore combo Single Mothers at a bar called Friends. But fate intervened and the band’s vehicle blew a tire on its way to Austin, forcing them to cancel their set and allowing for fellow Canadian Daniel Moore to take their place at the event dubbed “Canada House” (which was doubly ironic considering how many fake Irish folks there were haunting the venue on St. Patrick’s Day). Moore acquitted himself well enough, providing the backing to his mumbly beach blues via a loop pedal that allowed him to construct beats out of rhythmic tricks in real time. But his John Mayer meets Ed Sheeran schtick wore thin after just a few songs, and he should decrease the number of breakdowns that find him harmonizing with himself. Still, his set did feature a delightfully surreal moment: During one of the songs, Moore paused and announced that he had to throw up. (He blamed the heat on stage; it was admittedly humid in Texas’ capital that evening.) Once his system was purged, he apologized for it and returned to his fantastically earnest set.

Still mildly crestfallen Single Mothers hadn’t made it, I was faced with a classic SXSW conundrum, one predicted by Joe Strummer decades ago: Should I stay or should I go? Do I sample the strangers booked on the bill next, or do I head back into the wild in search of something with more buzz or credibility? I tend to play the odds at SXSW, so my instinct was to bolt. But I’m glad I stuck around Canada House, because the next band up has instantly become my new favorite thing. The Oooh Baby Gimme Mores (known colloquially and introduced as the OBGMs) play a brand of spastic, charismatic half-pipe hardcore that has almost no place in the mainstream, and yet I would not be shocked if they had a moment in the sun (though they’ve already scored a Budweiser campaign, which should be worth something). Their crossover potential lies in frontman Densil McFarlane, who lorded over the show with a fantastically charismatic fist. In addition to delivering caustic party bangers with a grinning intensity, he also spent time in the crowd handing out flashing light gizmos and leading group dances. He’s like a cross between David Lee Roth and Tyler, the Creator, and if that doesn’t scream “superstar,” it’s hard to determine what does.

With the OBGM buzz still fresh, I dropped in to watch a single song performed by a deeply dark metal band called Venomous Maximus (they’re satisfyingly heavy and insanely tattooed) before settling in to one of the last comedy shows of SXSW. Brilliant comedian Ari Shaffir has a show on Comedy Central called This Is Not Happening, and it’s based around personal stories told by stand-ups that all center around a single thing or idea. In the past, the concepts have been “friendship,” “drugs,” and every topic in between, but this time around, the talking point was appropriately “music.” Everyone on the bill rose to the occasion. After Shaffir’s opening story about being marooned at SXSW after being told the show he was supposed to perform at didn’t actually exist, each subsequent comic knocked it out of the proverbial park: Andrew Santino spun a tale about how a Mark Ecko sweater led to his motorboating a stranger at a String Cheese Incident concert; Nick Thune recounted his misadventures with Scott Weiland; Big Jay Oakerson felt bad about his altered friendship with megastar and longtime pal Kevin Hart; Ali Siddiq conjured his near-magical (and drug-assisted) run-in with George Clinton. But it was Sasheer Zamata who stole the evening, as the SNL star gave a rapt audience the blow-by-blow of her odd misadventures (both sexual and otherwise) with a recent SNL musical guest she only identified as Falcor (because she loves The Neverending Story). What began as mild flirting morphed into her receiving a $30,000 watch, some fraught texting, a single bizarre sexual encounter, and a yeast infection Zamata’s doctor described as “crazy bad.” This Is Not Happening is an awesome concept that should run and run; the season finale happens to be this Thursday after @Midnight.

With the St. Patrick’s Day hangovers already setting in downtown, it was time for some metal. Royal Thunder emerged from the same Atlanta-area muck that has given us genre-pushers like Mastodon, Baroness, and Black Tusk, and their brand of groovy, throbbing, chunky riffage was not longs on the devil horn-tossing masses. Singer/bassist Mlny Parsonz is particularly badass in her approach, lending the band’s hard-edged chugga-chugga just a hint of pop sweetness.

With the curfew clock ticking, there was time for one last bit of musical bliss. After being shut out of local alt-blues hero Gary Clark, Jr.’s show, I found myself face to face with the minimalist space-blues of Angel Olsen. Though her sparse brand of emote-and-strum was a little lost on the buzzing 1 AM crowd at the House of Vans, it’s a testament to the power of her voice and the conviction of her songwriting that even given the circumstances, she remained utterly compelling. Olsen provided a series of sweetly skewed lullabies that acted as the perfect send-off to the first day of SXSW’s music festivities, an appropriately surreal kick-off to what promises to be a truly weird couple of days.

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